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What are the Psychological Causes of Eating Disorders

written by: Kristina Dems • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 9/8/2010

Common psychological causes of eating disorders involve anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, impulsiveness and being a perfectionist. These psychological causes are discussed in this article.

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    Eating Disorders

    Eating disorders can be dangerous because they are nutritional problems. They are several known social and biological causes, but the most common cause is psychological.

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    Depression

    Deep feelings of sadness and melancholy during times of depression can cause people to eat less or nothing at all. In some cases, the opposite occurs. People start eating like it's going out of fashion, and often they consume food that is considered junk. This is the most common cause for people to start eating irregularly. If it continues for an extended period of time, it can lead to a serious eating disorder. Even after depression, irregular eating may continue due to a habit that was formed.

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    Anxiety

    People who are constantly anxious, worrying or nervous typically need something to keep their thoughts and attention busy. And that need is usually fulfilled by food. A lot of food. However, people who are too anxious will spend a lot of time thinking and worrying, making them to forget even the most basic things that they should be doing like eating. This is why anxiety is a major cause of eating disorders. Panic attacks or compulsive behavior can lead some people to eating more or eating less, and sometimes, eating nothing at all.

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    Low Self-Esteem

    People with low self-esteem can develop ideas that they are not worthy and are not capable of being attractive. This may lead them to eating carelessly, gaining a lot of weight along the way. On the opposite side of the spectrum, low self-esteem can also drive people, especially women, to eat less. Sometimes, they will not eat anything at all just to lose weight and become skinny like the supermodels and female actors they see in the media. This makes low self-esteem a prime suspect for causing eating disorders.

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    Perfectionist Personality

    Some people enforce strict diets on themselves. Sometimes, they can go too far. If they think they ate more than they should have, they will try to offset the “extra” food they ate by eating less and less. This can develop into a habit. Once this happens, the onset of eating disorders occurs, leading them to continue eating hardly any food on a regular basis.

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    Impulsive Behavior

    People with this psychological trait function without thinking about the consequences of their actions. This is fertile ground for the development of binge eating. These people will eat whenever the thought occurs and without thinking about the amount of food they are eating and how often they are consuming it. Among all the psychological causes of eating disorders, this is one of the easiest to control especially if there are people around to help. Take away the food and impulsive people won't feel the sudden need to eat.

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    References

    National Institute of Mental Health - Eating Disorders

    Victoria Government Health Information - What is an Eating Disorder?

    Womens Health - Binge Eating